Contemporary reviews of the work were not universally positive. Writing in the American New Republic magazine, George Soule expressed his disappointment in the book, writing that it "puzzled and saddened me. It seemed on the whole dull. The allegory turned out to be a creaking machine for saying in a clumsy way things that have been said better directly." Soule believed that the animals were not consistent enough with their real-world inspirations, and said, "It seems to me that the failure of this book (commercially it is already assured of tremendous success) arises from the fact that the satire deals not with something the author has experienced, but rather with stereotyped ideas about a country which he probably does not know very well".
The Guardian on 24 August 1945 called Animal Farm "a delightfully humorous and caustic satire on the rule of the many by the few". Tosco Fyvel, writing in Tribune on the same day, called the book "a gentle satire on a certain State and on the illusions of an age which may already be behind us." Julian Symons responded, on 7 September, "Should we not expect, in Tribune at least, acknowledgement of the fact that it is a satire not at all gentle upon a particular State – Soviet Russia? It seems to me that a reviewer should have the courage to identify Napoleon with Stalin, and Snowball with Trotsky, and express an opinion favourable or unfavourable to the author, upon a political ground. In a hundred years time perhaps, Animal Farm may be simply a fairy story; today it is a political satire with a good deal of point." Animal Farm has been subject to much comment in the decades since these early remarks.
The CIA, from 1952 to 1957 in Operation Aedinosaur, sent millions of balloons carrying copies of the novel into Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, whose air forces tried to shoot the balloons down.
Time magazine chose Animal Farm as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005); it also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996 and is included in the Great Books of the Western World selection.
Popular reading in schools, Animal Farm was ranked the UK's favourite book from school in a 2016 poll.
Animal Farm has also faced an array of challenges in school settings around the US. The following are examples of this controversy that has existed around Orwell's work:
- The John Birch Society in Wisconsin challenged the reading of Animal Farm in 1965 because of its reference to masses revolting.
- New York State English Council's Committee on Defense Against Censorship found that in 1968, Animal Farm had been widely deemed a "problem book."
- A censorship survey conducted in DeKalb County, Georgia, relating to the years 1979–1982, revealed that many schools had attempted to limit access to Animal Farm due to its "political theories."
- In 1987, a superintendent in Bay County, Florida, banned Animal Farm at the middle school and high school levels in 1987.
- The Board quickly brought back the book, however, after receiving complaints of the ban as "unconstitutional".
- Animal Farm was removed from the Stonington, Connecticut school district curriculum in 2017.
Animal Farm has also faced similar forms of resistance in other countries. The ALA also mentions the way that the book was prevented from being featured at the International Book Fair in Moscow, Russia, in 1977 and banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates for references to practices or actions that defy Arab or Islamic beliefs, such as pigs or alcohol.
In the same manner, Animal Farm has also faced relatively recent issues in China. In 2018, the government made the decision to censor all online posts about or referring to Animal Farm. However the book itself, as of 2019, remains sold in stores. Amy Hawkins and Jeffrey Wasserstrom of The Atlantic stated in 2019 that the book is widely available in Mainland China for several reasons: the general public by and large no longer reads books, because the elites who do read books feel connected to the ruling party anyway, and because the Communist Party sees being too aggressive in blocking cultural products as a liability. The authors stated "It was—and remains—as easy to buy 1984 and Animal Farm in Shenzhen or Shanghai as it is in London or Los Angeles." An enhanced version of the book, launched in India in 2017, was widely praised for capturing the author's intent, by republishing the proposed preface of the First Edition and the preface he wrote for the Ukrainian edition.